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IntroductionSplashy resort and spa websites gush with words like “posh” and “pampered.” “South Beach meets the Sonoran Desert” sums up the nightlife and shopping. And there are more than enough golf courses here (250-plus at last count) to keep Tiger Woods out of trouble. Phoenix, once known as little more than a tanning salon for traveling retirees, has become the Arizona desert's big-city vacation oasis for all ages.
The downtown core, while pleasant enough, isn't going to knock your socks off like, say, the flashy Las Vegas Strip or historic Santa Fe, New Mexico. But that's not what you're here for. It's those plush resorts (and the fancy-schmancy restaurants inside them), the outstanding museums, the top-flight pro sports venues, the culture (from art galleries to symphony concerts) and, most importantly, the ideal fall-to-spring weather you've come to experience.
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In DepthIn Phoenix, if you don't drink plenty of water, a golf stroke is promptly followed by heat stroke. Precious H20. Piped in from the Colorado, Salt and Verde rivers, it's what makes this ultrahot metropolis possible. Lush resorts, posh spas, superb museums and excellent restaurants surrounded by a starkly beautiful landscape, Phoenix is Arizona's big city-vacation oasis.
If your mental picture of Arizona is one of a Marlboro man riding merrily across the saguaro cactus-studded desert, that's here, too. Rising behind the downtown skyscrapers is Camelback Mountain, the go-to spot for desert-style hiking. East of the city, beyond the spill of cookie-cutter suburbs, are the rugged Superstition Mountains.
Of course, from late spring to late summer when daytime temps spike past the century mark for weeks on end, the only hiking you'll be doing is from Nordstrom to Neiman Marcus at the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall. Located about 10 miles northeast of downtown, Scottsdale—with its golf resorts, upscale eateries, hip nightlife and art galleries galore—is the state capital's tourist hot spot.
Downtown Phoenix, spruced up in recent decades, is where you can see the Arizona Diamondbacks in their retractable-roofed stadium, listen to a Brahms concerto at Symphony Hall or watch a Phoenix Suns game at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The downtown core is loaded with restaurants and lively bars, especially in the streets surrounding sports venues. But unless you get a charge out of staring up at modern glass-and-steel towers inhabited by banks, this isn't exactly the stuff of walking tour brochures. A few exceptions include the 1929 Art Deco-style Luhrs Tower (at the corner of First Avenue and Jefferson Street) and Heritage Square, where the city's original Victorian brick buildings house small museums and a pair of popular restaurants.
Greater Phoenix, often maligned for its housing tracts full of stucco schlock, boasts many architectural jewels. Frank Lloyd Wright chose Scottsdale for the site of his gorgeous Taliesin West retreat. Wright also influenced the Mayan textile block design of the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort.
In the older neighborhoods surrounding the downtown core you'll drive down sunbaked boulevards lined with ranch-style homes and aging strip malls. In these areas you'll find several outstanding Mexican eateries and a handful of small joints dishing up cheap and tasty Native American food.
The Ancestral Desert People were the first to settle in the Valley of the Sun (as the Phoenix area is known). They built a network of irrigation canals, farmed the beautiful wasteland and created a great city. But around the mid-1400s, they mysteriously vanished. The 1860s saw a new frontier town begin to take shape atop the old site. This rebirth, like the mythical Phoenix rising from the ashes, is what gives the city its name.
Now crisscrossed by a network of wide L.A.-style freeways, the greater metro area is home to some 4.3 million residents, making it the largest city in the desert Southwest. One reason behind the explosive growth is that the weather isn't always comparable to an oven set on broil. In the often warm, mild months of late fall, winter and early spring, Phoenix residents are wearing shorts and reserving tee times.
By CarMajor highways make Phoenix readily accessible from all directions. The main route from Flagstaff and other points north is I-17, while the main route from the south and southeast is I-10. US 60, coming from the east, joins I-10 just north of Baseline Road.
In Phoenix I-10 intersects I-17 at 20th Street and leads west to Los Angeles. West of Phoenix, SR 85 intersects with I-10 and continues south to Gila Bend; I-8 can then be followed to Yuma and San Diego.
Street SystemThe streets in Phoenix form an orderly grid. Numbered streets run north and south, intersected by named streets going east and west. The axis is formed by Washington Street, which divides the city north and south, and Central Avenue, which determines the east and west sections. All avenues run west of Central; all streets, east.
Unless otherwise posted the speed limit on most streets is 25 mph. A right turn on red after a complete stop is legal unless otherwise posted. During rush hours the center turn lanes of 7th Avenue and 7th Street are reverse traffic flow lanes: morning rush hour one way into the city and evening rush hour one way out of the city. Try to avoid rush hours, 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.
ParkingParking is regulated by meters, which are enforced daily 8 a.m.-10 p.m. with an hourly rate of $1 to $1.50. Most parking meters accept credit and debit cards as well as coins. During business hours and in the downtown area certain one-way streets have restricted parking hours. Rates at public lots start at $1.50 per hour.
About the City
Sales TaxThe statewide sales tax is 5.6 percent; an additional 2 percent is added in Phoenix and an additional 0.7 percent is added in Maricopa County. There is a hotel/motel tax of 12.27 percent. Rental cars incur a 10.3 percent tax, plus an 11.11 percent concession fee. There is a stadium tax of 3.25 percent. Airport parking includes a daily surcharge of 4.5 percent.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)(602) 262-6151
HospitalsBanner Estrella Medical Center, (623) 327-4000; Banner—University Medical Center, (602) 839-2000; Maricopa Integrated Health System, (602) 344-5011; Maryvale Hospital, (623) 848-5000; St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, (602) 406-3000.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersThe city's daily newspaper is The Arizona Republic, published in the morning.
RadioPhoenix radio station KTAR (92.3 FM) is a news/talk/traffic station; KJZZ (91.5 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.
Visitor InformationVisit Phoenix 125 N. 2nd St., Suite 120 PHOENIX, AZ 85004. Phone:(602)254-6500 or (877)225-5749
Visit Phoenix distributes the Official Travel Guide to Greater Phoenix and Downtown Phoenix Dining Guide.
Air TravelPhoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), 4 miles southeast of downtown, is served by 17 major airlines. SuperShuttle is a 24-hour shared-ride service; phone (602) 244-9000 in metro Phoenix, or (800) 258-3826 outside Arizona. ExecuCar also is available from SuperShuttle; phone (602) 232-4600 or (800) 410-4444.
Airport limousine service, independent of the hotels, starts at $90. Some companies that serve the airport and certain downtown hotels are Arizona Limousines, (602) 267-7097; Carey Limousine, (602) 996-1955 or (800) 336-4646; and Desert Rose Limousine Service, (602) 256-7200 or (800) 716-8660. Cab service to downtown averages 20 minutes and costs an average of $20.
Rental CarsAt the airport, Hertz, (602) 267-8822 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
BusesGreyhound Lines Inc. has terminals at 2115 E. Buckeye Rd., (602) 389-4200, and 2647 W. Glendale Ave., (602) 246-0907 or (800) 231-2222.
TaxisTaxi companies serving the greater Phoenix area include AAA Yellow Cab, (602) 252-5252; Discount Cab, (602) 200-2000; and VIP Taxi, (602) 300-3000.
Public TransportationValley METRO Light Rail connects downtown Phoenix to the neighboring communities of Tempe and Mesa. To reach Sky Harbor International Airport, get off at the station at 44th and Washington streets. From there, the free PHX Sky Train connects to the East Economy parking area and Terminals 3 and 4. At Terminal 4, shuttle buses provide transportation to Terminals 2 and 3.
METRO Light Rail and bus fares are $2 per ride, $4 for an all-day pass or $20 for a 7-day pass; an additional $1.25 is charged for Express/RAPID. Self-serve ticket machines located at all stations accept cash and credit cards. The light rail operates 4:30 a.m.-midnight, with extended hours on Friday and Saturday. More information and printed route maps are available at downtown's Central Station (300 N. Central Ave.), or by phoning (602) 253-5000.
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EssentialsTouch scarlet cactus fruit and watch butterflies touch down on wildflowers and giant saguaro cacti at the Desert Botanical Garden (1201 N. Galvin Pkwy.), where you'll find plenty of Sonoran Desert wonders to admire.
Hike to the summit of Camelback Mountain, the double-humped peak that soars above Paradise Valley and Arcadia. A strenuous trail beginning in Echo Canyon Recreation Area (4925 E. McDonald Dr.) is called—for good reason—the “Scenic Stairmaster.” This is no casual amble. At the top, scan the spectacular panorama of metropolitan Phoenix and the Sonoran Desert beyond.
Pamper yourself in one of the spa capitals of the world. Walking through the tranquil lobby of the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort (2400 E. Missouri Ave.)—with architecture inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright—is a great way to begin your luxurious experience. At the spa, delight in a massage with warm basalt stones.
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Be a cowpoke for a day and ride a horse through Sonoran Desert country. In the foothills of South Mountain Park (main entrance at 109019 S. Central Ave.) you can trot and canter along more than 40 miles of trails. Hire horses and guides through Ponderosa Stables (10215 S. Central Ave.), or contact the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Take an art walk on Roosevelt Row , aka RoRo, the stretch of Roosevelt Street between 7th Street and Grand Avenue, on the first Friday of every month. Galleries and art studios stay open late, and the sidewalks are crowded with families, bohemian hipsters and street performers.
“Batter up!” If it's late February or March, catch spring training with Major League Baseball's Cactus League. In the autumn, check out the Arizona Fall League, a proving ground for Major League farm teams. Phoenix is a hot place for sports—this is the hometown of the NBA Suns, NHL Coyotes, NFL Cardinals and MLB Diamondbacks.
Hear bells at Cosanti (6433 E. Doubletree Ranch Rd.) in Paradise Valley. Paolo Soleri, an architect, sculptor and protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, founded this site to further his organically inspired architecture. An hour north of Phoenix in Mayer is Soleri's experimental community, Arcosanti (13555 S. Cross L Rd.), where you can observe his distinctive spiraling, swooping edifices—there aren't any box-shaped buildings here.
Search for the fabled Lost Dutchman Gold Mine in the rugged Superstition Mountains east of the city. Even if you don't find the mine (no one has in more than 110 years), the scenery alone is a rich payoff. Stop at Goldfield Ghost Town & Mine Tours (4650 N. Mammoth Mine Rd.) for some cheesy Wild West fun. Go hiking in nearby Lost Dutchman State Park (6109 N. Apache Tr.). Then drive the windy but incredibly scenic Apache Trail road (SR 88) to Canyon Lake and beyond; the road is unpaved but suitable for cars.
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Top Picks for Kids
Under 13Start the day with a fun-filled visit to the Arizona Science Center (600 E. Washington St.). Five themed galleries feature more than 300 hands-on exhibits, including a rock-climbing wall and the Evans Family SkyCycle, which allows riders to pedal along a 90-foot cable suspended in midair. There's also an IMAX and a planetarium, giving you enough choices to fill an entire afternoon with educational activities!
Fans of G.I. Joe and antique dolls alike should head to the Arizona Doll and Toy Museum (5847 W. Myrtle Ave.). There are figurines and even a classroom filled with porcelain students. Meanwhile, parents should get a kick out of seeing toys they recognize, such as a rare Vinyl Cape Jawa from “Star Wars.”
At the Phoenix Art Museum (1625 N. Central Ave.), kids can frame their art experiences easily; just ask for a children’s pack, which includes activities and puzzles sure to capture the imagination and explain a thing or two about art.
The Hard Rock Cafe (3 S. 2nd St.) proves perfect for eating and sightseeing. Order the usual kid-friendly staples and look around. You’ll see Justin Timberlake’s stage costume from his ’NSYNC days, a purple Prince costume and Stevie Nicks’ black cloak with silver stitches. Then, after eating, you can always buy a guitar-emblazoned T-shirt or mug.
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The renowned Heard Museum (2301 N. Central Ave.) highlights Native American culture and art. With audiovisual guides and interactive exhibits, you can develop a greater appreciation for the region’s culture. You can even step inside a traditional Navajo hogan and think about how different it is from your own home.
Continue your time-traveling at the Center for Archaeology & Society: Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve (3711 W. Deer Valley Rd.), a 30-minute drive to the Hedgpeth Hills, to see firsthand examples of Native American heritage. More than 1,500 petroglyphs, or carved symbols, cover the black basalt boulders. Walk the quarter-mile Petroglyph Trail, visit the museum to learn about the people and culture behind the petroglyphs or just enjoy the scenery. You may even see roadrunners and coyotes (not necessarily giving chase).
The nearby Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum (3901 W. Pioneer Rd.) adds to the state’s story with a pioneer village from the late 19th century. Costumed interpreters fill the old buildings—complete with an opera house, blacksmith shop and jail—with new life by reenacting historical events.
All AgesCloser to the airport, there’s Pueblo Grande Museum (4619 E. Washington St.) with its ruins of a 1,500-year-old Hohokam village. Along with an ancient ball court and platform mound, you’ll find an updated theater and galleries, including a hands-on children’s section.
The Phoenix Zoo (455 N. Galvin Pkwy.) shows off more than 1,400 animals across 125 acres in the area known as Papago Park. With four trails—or themed areas—explaining the different zoo environments, it offers exhibits for both adults and children. The Children’s Trail, for example, displays kid-friendly farming methods and a petting zoo.
The Desert Botanical Garden (1201 N. Galvin Pkwy.) features collections of the growing sort, including Australian, Baja California and South American areas—all artistically arranged. Kids may enjoy following the main trail’s discovery stations, while parents can enjoy the photo opportunities along the way.
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NightlifeYou'll find most of the valley's nocturnal action in Scottsdale and Tempe, but Phoenix proper is no slouch when it comes to live music, cocktail lounges and casual bars. Pick up the free weekly Phoenix New Times for a comprehensive roundup of club and concert listings.
The downtown streets are brimming with sports bars that get wild on big game nights. Located behind Talking Stick Resort Arena, and only a few blocks from Chase Field, Alice Cooper'stown (owned by the heavy metal shockmeister), 101 E. Jackson St., is loaded with flat-screen TVs, Cooper memorabilia and die-hard D-backs fans. Drinks are cheap and the pub grub menu features the 22-inch “Big Unit” hot dog. Welcome to your nightmare.
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Everyone knows what to expect from Hard Rock Cafe, 3 S. 2nd St., and the Phoenix branch near Talking Stick Resort Arena holds no surprises. But it's still a fun spot to grab a pre- or post-game brew. Majerle's Sports Grill , 24 N. 2nd St., is owned by ex-Suns great Dan Majerle and draws big crowds during the NBA season.
If suds and ESPN SportsCenter aren't your scene, the city has several classy cocktail bars where you can sip a $12 appletini and chill in style. SoHo meets the Southwest at MercBar , 2525 E. Camelback Rd., a dark, sexy lounge across the street from Biltmore Fashion Park. A few minutes northwest of downtown is SideBar , 1514 N. 7th Ave., a snug watering hole with swank décor and bartenders who know their business.
Chivas Regal on the rocks is best enjoyed while gazing out at twinkling city lights. The upscale Jade Bar, 5700 E. McDonald Dr., obliges with outstanding nighttime views from its lofty locale at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain resort.
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Performing ArtsPhoenix's rapid growth has been cultural as well as industrial. The following theaters present a mix of classic and contemporary drama: Herberger Theater Center, (602) 254-7399, 222 E. Monroe; Phoenix Theatre, (602) 254-2151, 100 E. McDowell Rd.; Greasepaint Youtheatre, (480) 949-7529, 7020 E. 2nd St. in Scottsdale; and TheaterWorks, (623) 815-7930, at 8355 W. Peoria Ave. in Peoria. Arizona's professional state theater group, the Arizona Theater Co., (602) 256-6995, performs at the Herberger Theater Center during its October to June season.
The historic Orpheum Theatre, (800) 430-8903, at 203 W. Adams St., was originally built for vaudeville acts and movies in 1929. Scheduled to be condemned, the city bought the theater and in 1997 reopened it as a 1,400-seat performing arts center.
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Cabarets, special concerts, big-name entertainment, shows and lectures are presented at the Herberger Theater Center, (602) 252-8497, 222 E. Monroe; and the ASU Gammage, (480) 965-3434, on the campus of Arizona State University at Mill Avenue and Apache Boulevard in Tempe.
Other special performance areas include Talking Stick Resort Arena, (602) 379-7800, 201 E. Jefferson St.; Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, (602) 252-6771, 1826 W. McDowell Rd.; Celebrity Theatre, (602) 267-1600, 440 N. 32nd St.; Ak-Chin Pavilion, (602) 254-7200, 2121 N. 83rd Ave.; and the Comerica Theatre, (602) 379-2800, 400 W. Washington St. In Mesa are the Mesa Arts Center, (480) 644-6500, 1 E. Main St.; and the Mesa Amphitheater, (480) 644-2560, 263 N. Center St.
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Bus, 4WD and Van ToursA tour is the best way to get an overall view of the city. Several companies offer four-wheel-drive or van tours of the desert: Open Road Tours , (602) 997-6474 or (800) 766-7117; Vaughan's Southwest Custom Tours, (602) 971-1381 or (800) 513-1381; and Wayward Wind Tours Inc., (602) 867-7825 or (800) 804-0480.
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Greg Weekes / AAA. Photo submitted by Greg Weekes
Phoenix in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Phoenix.
Phoenix and its surrounding areas comprise more than 400 square miles, so it's essential to have your own wheels for this itinerary. Pay parking lots and garages abound all over downtown; away from the city center, parking is typically plentiful and free. METRO Light Rail is the only practical public transportation option, but it offers only one route, which links the Tempe/Mesa area with downtown Phoenix. If your hotel is in either of these spots, METRO can be used for most of the “Day 2: Evening” suggestions.
Day 1: MorningStart your trip by communing with nature at the Desert Botanical Garden in Papago Park on the east side of town. This is where you'll really come to understand the majesty of the Sonoran Desert.
Next, drive south in Papago Park and enjoy the scenery—sandstone buttes dramatically jut skyward. Stop at the Phoenix Zoo and check out all the creatures that live in re-creations of their own natural habitats.
Day 1: Afternoon
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Now duck indoors away from the desert heat at the Heard Museum , where you can view fascinating exhibits about Native American cultures and arts.
Also on N. Central Avenue, you can admire the masters: Boucher, Rodin and Monet. Drop by the Phoenix Art Museum and eyeball some world-class pieces. You'll find more than 17,000 works here, from the ancient to the contemporary.
A few minutes to the southwest, a visit to the Arizona Capitol Museum will definitely thrill the History Channel-nut among you.
Day 1: Evening
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Day 2: MorningGet an early start and hike through desert terrain to the top of Camelback Mountain on the Summit Trail (aka Echo Canyon Trail). Note: This is a rigorous hike, so bring plenty of water.
If you'd rather let a horse do the hoofin' while you enjoy the desert scenery, head down to South Mountain Park. Ponderosa Stables offers guided horseback rides Monday through Saturday beginning at 8 a.m.
Not the outdoorsy type? No problem. While others sweat and get saddle sores, you'll be pulling up to the valet at the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort . Have a mimosa or Bloody Mary in the classy bar and drink in the hotel's gorgeous Mayan temple-like architecture, which was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. Now properly relaxed, head for the hotel spa and treat yourself to a massage or facial.
Day 2: AfternoonAfter sun, salts or Sonoran desert, you've worked up an appetite. Luckily there are plenty of eateries close by. Try Miracle Mile Delicatessen , a New York-style deli known for its pastrami sandwiches. Or maybe you'd prefer succulent baby back ribs or a salad at Phoenix City Grille . If you're up for some Native American-style tacos, head to The Fry Bread House , where the cooks load huge discs of Navajo fry bread full of meat (beef, spicy pork), beans, cheese and lettuce.
Opened in 2010, the Musical Instrument Museum has quickly become one of the valley's must-sees. Drive up to north Phoenix and get ready to spend hours ogling more than 3,000 musical instruments from around the world. We're talking everything from Australian didgeridoos to Moog synthesizers. And not only will you see a complete gamelan ensemble from Indonesia, you'll hear it being played through the museum's state-of-the-art audio tour headphone system.
Day 2: EveningPhoenix presents plenty of opportunities to watch overpaid pro athletes in action. Score tickets to see the NBA Suns sink jump shots at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Head over to Glendale and watch the NHL Coyotes cross-check, high-stick and duke it out with the competition at Gila River Arena. Or take yourself out to the ballgame and root root root for the MLB Diamondbacks at Chase Field (cheering is optional for fans of NL West division rivals).
Stolen bases and slam dunks not your thing? Feast on gourmet pie at the stylish La Bocca . Then, after dinner, slip into a nightclub or two along Mill Avenue.
Day 3: MorningGrab a quick breakfast near your hotel, then spend the day in Scottsdale, east of Phoenix. Tour the grounds and building complex at Taliesin West , the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright. Splurge on the 90-minute Insights Tour, which visits Wright's personal living quarters; the basic 1-hour Panorama Tour does not.
Day 3: AfternoonFor a lunch located close to Taliesin West, go to du Jour Restaurant , the on-campus training facility for students of the Arizona Culinary Institute. Or, in Scottsdale, down a wood-fired pizza or a roasted chicken pita at Pita Jungle .
Beat the midday heat and slip inside the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art to enjoy a premier modern art collection. The museum is chockablock with original Abstract, Cubist and Expressionist works.
Inspired to buy some art? Stroll palm-lined Main Street in the downtown Arts District. The area has more than 100 galleries; if you're a collector, keep the high-limit plastic handy.
Too rich for your blood? The shops in Old Town Scottsdale (just across Scottsdale Road) traffic in the usual T-shirts and desert-themed souvenirs (think rubber tomahawks and mini cacti). But that's not all. Behind the Old West wooden storefronts you'll also find shops selling Western wear and authentic Native American arts and crafts.
Day 3: EveningFor dinner, go upscale and book a table at the Roaring Fork , which specializes in Southwestern dishes and sauces.
A tad more casual, Malee's Thai On Main is a good bet if you're in the mood for some spicy noodles and nice outdoor seating. The Old Town Tortilla Factory does Mexican classics well. And it's tough to beat their homemade tortillas and killer margaritas.
After supper, put a glide in your stride and check out one of Scottsdale's flashy nightclubs. The 18,000-square-foot scenester-club Axis/Radius (7340 E. Indian Plaza) is a hip spot to bump-n-grind; phone (480) 970-1112.
Feeling lucky after dinner? Head to the We-Ko-Pa Resort and Conference Center . The low-key, 24-hour casino is a fun way to spend the evening, provided you're winning big.
AttractionsIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
While a round of golf or a spa treatment tops most Phoenix vacation itineraries, there's no shortage of attractions to keep you busy after you birdie the 18th hole or peel off that detoxifying seaweed wrap. When planning an outing, keep in mind that the Valley of the Sun—which includes Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, Mesa, Sun City and Glendale—covers a big area. Public transportation is limited, and driving the freeways from one end of the valley to the other can take some time, especially in rush-hour traffic. Keep a cool head, and if it's summer, crank up the AC.
First up, learn about the surrounding desert by taking a guided tour or wandering the paths of the Desert Botanical Garden , set against a backdrop of ruby-colored bluffs in Papago Park . With more than 50 acres of outdoor exhibits, this AAA GEM attraction boasts thousands of species of plants adapted to the dry landscape. You'll see native and exotic cacti and succulents, and during the flowering season from March to May, the bright wildflowers are especially dramatic.
While you're in Papago Park, head over to the Phoenix Zoo . Forget about penguins and caribou; this place houses 200 species from mostly warm or arid environments. The creatures live in re-created natural habitats—baboons hang out in an African savanna, and huge Galapagos tortoises roam in rocky terrain. The zoo's landscaping is impressive, with tropical jungles and grasslands so real you'll forget you're in the desert.
Stroll through the Heard Museum , a AAA GEM attraction that explores the rich history and arts of the Southwest's Native American cultures. The downtown museum has a massive permanent collection—pottery, jewelry, sculpture, textiles, hundreds of Kachina dolls—but the layout is so seamless you won't feel overwhelmed. A museum highlight is Steven Yazzie's provocative, 160-foot-wide “Fear of a Red Planet” mural, which depicts Southwest Native American history, from the coming of Kit Carson to modern tribal casinos.
See fire-engine red at the Hall of Flame Fire Museum in downtown Phoenix. This AAA GEM attraction is one of the world's largest firefighting museums, housing a vast collection of classic fire trucks. You'll see a hand-pumper dating back to 1725 England as well as classic 20th-century engines. The museum has more than 90 vehicles in all, shined and primed.
The Arizona Capitol Museum , another AAA GEM attraction, has a copper roof symbolizing an important state industry: mining. Inside, you'll gain an understanding of how the rough-and-tumble Arizona Territory became a state in 1912. The downtown museum no longer serves as the capitol building, but visitors can walk through former state offices and chambers and explore interactive exhibits. Artifacts include the silver service removed from the USS Arizona before it sailed to its fate in Pearl Harbor.
Want to entertain the kids and learn a little something yourself? Check out the Arizona Science Center , which offers more than 300 hands-on exhibits explaining the world and its workings. At this educational playground you can experiment with gravity and friction, explore the world of digital communications and learn about the human body and brain. There's also a planetarium and a five-story IMAX theater. You're bound to have fun here, but try to avoid visiting on weekend afternoons when the place can get seriously crowded.
Tour the weirdest, wildest building in town: Mystery Castle (open October through June) at the foot of the South Mountains. An extraordinary example of folk art, this adobe and stone house is a structural jumble. Boyce Luther Gulley began building the three-story dwelling in the 1930s for his daughter, using glass bottles and other bizarre materials—goat's milk, mortar, calcium, auto parts—to fashion crenellated turrets and parapets.
Phoenix's first inhabitants are the focus of the Pueblo Grande Museum , near Sky Harbor Airport. This museum and the surrounding ruins offer a fascinating look at the Ancestral Desert People, who lived here for more than 1,500 years. You can walk through the ruins of a village that was mysteriously abandoned in the 15th century. The site artifacts on display are as interesting as the ruins; an outdoor trail leads to reconstructed and furnished Hohokam-style houses.
From the trail at the 47-acre Center for Archaeology & Society: Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve in Hedgpeth Hills, you can see more than 1,500 petroglyphs on hundreds of boulders. Some of the religiously significant petroglyphs at this sacred site were carved into the rocks more than 5,000 years ago; many animal motifs tell hunting stories. Before you start on the trail, rent binoculars to get an up-close look at these ancient and revered works of art.
Nearby Scottsdale, on the east side of the valley, isn't the Wild West town it was a century ago. Now it's more 5th Avenue than Five Bar Ranch, and the only wagons you'll see are SUVs. The daringly designed Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is the cream of the city's crop of art galleries. The valley's foremost purveyor of modern art displays a variety of styles—abstract, cubist, expressionist—along with quite a few works featuring cowboys and Native Americans. The Wild West lives on in Scottsdale.
On the north side of Scottsdale, visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West , where the renowned architect made his winter home. He also worked here—it's a 600-acre architectural workshop in the desert. The interiors are a fascinating study in 20th-century decor, and the buildings' facades mirror the Sonoran Desert's rough textures and brilliant colors. Because it's still a functioning school, the only way to see Taliesin is by guided tour; the most popular is the 90-minute Insights Tour.
Get out of town and hit the dusty desert road. Starting in Apache Junction, drive the Apache Trail , which was built as a road in 1905 to carry supplies to Roosevelt Dam. The route loops around the Superstition Mountains , home to the legendary Lost Dutchman Gold Mine (see Insider Info). Beyond Lost Dutchman State Park , the road twists, turns and climbs through saguaro cactus-studded foothills before arriving at pretty Canyon Lake , where you can take a cruise on The Dolly Steamboat . Up next is Tortilla Flat, a tiny “town” with a restaurant and general store. Beyond here, the road is unpaved (suitable for a passenger car), and the scenery is a knockout: deep gorges, vertigo-inducing cliffs and windblown grasslands. (Caution: If it's raining or you're an inexperienced driver, do not attempt to drive past Tortilla Flat).
Just a few miles northeast of Apache Junction is Goldfield Ghost Town & Mine Tours , a reconstructed 1890s gold mining town. Touristy to a wonderfully cheesy T, the town has some pretty good gift shops (surprisingly affordable) and a few hokey-but-fun attractions (a mine tour, a train ride, a recreated Wild West bordello). The surrounding Superstition Mountains scenery is top-notch, and nice photo ops reveal themselves around dusk.
If you're a stickler for authenticity, check out the 90-acre Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum . Located north of Phoenix off I-17, this collection of mostly-original pioneer buildings will give you a taste of what life was like before iPhones and Xboxes (the horror!). Pick out a cowboy hat or bonnet at the Mercantile gift shop, and then immerse yourself in simpler times as costumed interpreters go about their 19th-century routines and gunslingers stage mock shootouts.
Blast off at Peoria's Challenger Space Center , where you can play astronaut in the center's Technology Flight Deck. Count down to liftoff in a mission control room modeled after the Johnson Space Center, glide in a mock spacecraft and roam a room that simulates the interior of the International Space Station. Not yet ready for atmospheric reentry? Catch a Starlab Planetarium show, learn how to use a telescope or ogle the NASA history exhibits.
In Tempe, the home of Arizona State University, is the Arizona State University Art Museum at the Nelson Fine Arts Center. Its galleries display crafts, prints and contemporary and Latin American art, with American masterworks by Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper and Frederic Remington. The museum's architecture, dramatically angled with a purplish facade, is widely regarded as a work of art itself.
A great way to experience the beginnings of the Valley of the Sun is by strolling Glendale's Sahuaro Ranch Park Historic Area . The ranch's towering date palms, parading peacocks and restored farmhouse evoke the late 19th century. Touring the site's original buildings and 17 acres of fruit trees and rose plots, you'll discover the roots of modern Phoenix.
The new kid on the Phoenix attractions block is the massive Musical Instrument Museum on the north side of town. Packed with more than 3,000 instruments from around the globe—from Gibson Les Paul guitars to Tibetan trumpets—this state-of-the-art museum takes you on a musical and cultural journey from Motown to Mozambique and every imaginable geographic point in between. If music's your passion, plan to spend the better part of a day here. Yes, it's that big.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
Owned and operated by Native Americans, The Fry Bread House isn't on most tourists' radar, but it should be on yours. Located in central Phoenix, a few minutes north of downtown, this hole-in-the-wall diner dishes up what are arguably the best fry bread tacos in the city. Bring a hearty appetite because these babies are huge: deep-fried, melt-in-your-mouth discs of Navajo fry bread loaded with the meat of your choice (green or red chile beef, spicy pork), cheese, beans and lettuce. Prices are cheap and you will leave stuffed. You can thank us later.
Joe's Real BBQ in Gilbert smokes its own meat and chicken over pecan grill fires for an unbeatable flavor. Try the tender ribs, the barbecue pit beans (chunky with meat) and the zesty coleslaw. For dessert, there's homemade root beer and brownies. On weekends, take-out service may be faster—there's usually a line out the door—but you just might want to wait and enjoy the fun of serve-yourself eating on the outdoor patio. Locals know Joe's as a great place to take the kids.
An ever-growing legion of pizza geeks and foodies swear that Pizzeria Bianco serves the best gourmet pie in the country. Chef Chris Bianco smokes his own mozzarella, hand tosses the dough, tops his creative pizzas with high-quality ingredients and cooks them in a classic wood-fired oven. To feast on what even The New York Times has admitted “just might be the best pizza in America,” you must first endure an epic line that typically stretches down the block (reservations are accepted for groups of 6 to 10 only; smaller parties often queue-up an hour before opening time). Want to whet your whistle while you wait, and wait and wait? There's an excellent wine bar next door.
In the recycled Arcadia post office, Postino Winecafe blends Mediterranean tastes and flavors. Try the bruschetta on a serving board with toppings of roasted artichoke or ricotta with pistachios. Freshly made soups, crisp salads and panini sandwiches round out the menu. Service is relaxed, and the décor is charming—garage-style glass doors open to the sunny outside dining patio. There's always a waiting line for lunch.
At Vincent on Camelback in central Phoenix, chef-owner Vincent Guerithault prepares dishes with French flair, using fresh seafood, lobster, veal, duck, lamb, beef and Cornish hen. The wait staff works as a seamless team to provide a high level of attention and expertise in each of several intimate dining rooms. Though the sauces are French, the cuisine style is “light.” Order the dessert soufflés—they're big enough for two and worth the short preparation time.
For great steaks, a warm, friendly atmosphere and accomplished service, Durant's fits the bill. The meat is aged to perfection, and a series of “Porterhouse Club” plaques on the walls attest to all the diners who've eaten the 48-ounce Porterhouse steak in one sitting. Fresh seafood is flown in daily and includes stone crab (in season) and Idaho trout. As you're walking in from the parking area, be sure to greet the grill chef as you pass through the kitchen. Durant's has been in business for more than 60 years and is often mentioned as the best place in town for steaks; the well-trained staff strives to make every visit exceptional.
Roaring Fork in Scottsdale is ideal for any special occasion. Service is consistently friendly and accomplished, and chef Bryan Hulihee combines Southwestern herbs and sauces with meat and fish in unique ways; his braised “Dr Pepper” beef short ribs are a signature dish. From a fantastic dessert list, the chocolate opera cake is a dieter's downfall. The warm and intimate dining rooms of this “American Western bistro” have canal views and small niches for romantic dining.
Using Arizona's indigenous foods, the chef at Kai (in the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort) has created a changing menu of seasonal recipes—many featuring Native American ingredients and spices. Heirloom produce comes from ancient seeds cultivated by Southwestern tribal groups. Specialties include soup made with huitlacoche, a smoky-tasting fungus that grows on ears of corn; pan-seared duck breast with prickly pear compote; and beef tenderloin with a pomegranate demi-glace. In this elegant, modern space, you'll savor every bite.
Looking for a romantic getaway? Make a reservation at T. Cook's , where elegant high ceilings and flowing draperies create Old World ambiance. This restaurant in the Royal Palms Resort and Spa offers a selection of Mediterranean entrées, including delectable rotisserie dishes. Try the Maine lobster served with a champagne-chive butter sauce or the house specialty, paella with lobster claws.
French-influenced Mediterranean cuisine isn't the only star at Different Pointe of View . This restaurant at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort sits some 700 feet above Phoenix, offering a spectacular sunset view of the valley and its sparkling evening lights. From thick and creamy soups like lobster bisque to delicate fish in savory sauces, the menu takes advantage of fresh seasonal ingredients. The award-winning international wine list is another selling point.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
What are New Year’s festivities without college football? Pregame fun for the Cactus Bowl , held the day after Christmas, includes a party near Chase Stadium with marching bands, pep rallies and live music. Starting in mid-November enjoy a hole-in-one golf tournament and a block party that leads up to the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl , held at The University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, in late December. The excitement continues with Phoenix’s annual National Bank of Arizona Fiesta Bowl Parade , one of the country’s largest. It proceeds down Central Avenue and includes marching bands from around the country, gussied-up horses, lavish floats and colorful balloons.
In March, the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market brings together the finest Native American artists in the Southwest. You'll see pottery, carved Kachina dolls, baskets, jewelry, photography and paintings—along with talented musicians, drummers and feather-costumed dancers. Be sure to try the fry bread and posole stew.
The Valley of the Sun knows how to put on a party for Independence Day, and the Fabulous Phoenix Fourth lives up to its name. Enjoy live entertainment by local acts, amusement rides, a classic car exhibit and lots of food. The party wraps up with a spectacular fireworks display at Steele Indian School Park.
After a long, sizzling summer the heat finally breaks in October, just in time for the Arizona Exposition & State Fair . If you're into livestock shows, carnival games, live tunes, handmade quilts or homemade jellies, you'll love this kind of old-fashioned fun. The grandstand is home to rodeos, a stunt show and a demolition derby. Ride the Ferris wheel, test your aim at the shooting gallery or visit the Home Arts Building to see if you agree with the judges' blue ribbon choices.
The bratwurst's steaming, the accordion's jamming and the tap's open at Tempe's annual Four Peaks Oktoberfest . Knockwurst and potato latkes are on the menu, and so is your favorite brew. Sitting is verboten, so boogie to an R&B band, feel irie with a reggae outfit or oompah into the night with polka players.
In December, more than 3.5 million lights transform the Phoenix Zoo into a twinkling holiday wonderland. ZooLights features fantastic creatures and light sculptures, including an 18-foot-long rattlesnake and a life-size talking giraffe. For holiday shopping, don't miss the Pueblo Grande Museum Indian Market , held on the museum grounds. One-of-a-kind crafts by more than 100 top artisans make perfect gifts for friends and family.
From late November to late December you can experience Christmas lights the old-fashioned way at the Desert Botanical Garden's Las Noches de las Luminarias . A Southwestern Christmas tradition, luminarias are sand-weighted paper bags holding a candle, and they're typically spaced along walkways and rooflines. In the botanical garden, thousands of luminarias light the paths and cast a radiant glow on beautiful desert flora. Stroll the garden and enjoy musical entertainment, and sip on a glass of wine or warm cider to keep the December chill at bay.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Ken Lund / flickr
The Lost Dutchman MineJust outside Phoenix, the Superstition Mountains loom with possibility—if you believe the legend of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. According to the lore of Western movies and books, the Superstitions horde millions in unmined gold. The cache is elusive; no one has found the mysterious mine in more than a century. Undeterred by previous failures, prospectors continue to scour the forbidding peaks and basaltic rock, hoping for the ultimate payday: the Dutchman's gold by the buckets full.
The legend itself is based on a few facts; the rest is up for grabs. Jacob Waltz, a German prospector known as the “Dutchman,” emerged in Phoenix during the 1870s with a saddlebag of high-quality gold. Waltz boasted he had found a rich gold vein—but he steadfastly refused to reveal its whereabouts in the Superstition Mountains.
Back then, few ventured into the Sonoran Desert and the dangerous, inhospitable Superstitions. If heat or thirst didn't kill you, the Apaches would—trespassing was forbidden in this sacred terrain. In the midst of so much danger, Jacob Waltz somehow defied the odds and struck it rich. And he returned to the barren mountains countless times to add to his golden stash.
After living a long, quiet life, Waltz died in 1891. Legend has it that before he passed away, he whispered cryptic clues about the mine's location to his caretaker, Julia Thomas, who later found gold under his bed. Finally convinced by the tale, she followed the old man's directions, as did thousands of others. Every gold-panner has come up empty, and many have died mysterious or gruesome deaths. After all this time, Waltz's gold remains lost.
The name is a misnomer, of course—the mine is lost, not the Dutchman—and naysayers abound. Geologists doubt that the Superstitions even contain gold. Did Waltz really find his treasure in these hills? Or was it a hoax? It doesn't really matter. The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine lives on as an enduring—and fascinating—legend of the Southwest.
You can visit these legendary mountains and judge for yourself; Lost Dutchman State Park is at the foot of the Superstitions, 30 miles east of Phoenix. The summer heat can be dangerous, so plan your trip for the cooler months. And keep a sharp eye out for zealous gold prospectors.
Places in Vicinity